Residents of Middleborough, Ma., outside Boston, voted yesterday to impose a $20 fine for public swearing, the Associated Press reports. Officials insist the proposal was not intended to censor casual or private conversations, but instead to crack down on loud, profanity-laden language used by teens and other young people in the downtown area and public parks.
Mimi Duphily, who runs an auto parts store, wanted to take a stand against the kind of swearing that can make customers uncomfortable. “They’ll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It’s just so inappropriate,” she said. The measure could raise questions about constitutional free speech rights, but state law does allow towns to enforce local laws that give police the power to arrest anyone who “addresses another person with profane or obscene language” in a public place. Matthew Segal of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the government cannot prohibit public speech just because it contains profanity.